I finished my first trip into the field. It was a very humbling trip for many reasons and I think I really learned a lot about the project, the work I’ll be doing now and in the future and about life in the field.

For my first trip I went down to the Anosy region. We flew down into Ft. Dauphin and then drove to Amboasary. Although we traveled in and around Amboasary, I was based out of there for about two weeks.

The first thing to note was my health. When I got into Ft. Dauphin I was terrified because my health was not better. I sent the last blog at a time that I really thought I was better. However, something happened that my body didn’t like the Sunday after the blog post and I got really sick all over again. The headaches returned and I really had difficulty lasting an entire day without being in pain. However, I managed to keep standing long enough to sign contracts and get things taken care of. By the end of that next week I was feeling a lot better (again) and I thought that going to work wouldn’t be an issue.

Mid-flight, I started to have a horrible headache that I couldn’t ignore. Thankfully, the flight wasn’t too long and I was able to make it to the hotel and lie down for a little bit. I think it could have been over exertion because I felt a lot better after dinner (crazy to think that I was that weak). The next few days I was doing ok and then I had a mid-day meltdown one day and had to lie down in the car. It was embarrassing more than anything, but I managed to finally get better.

What I attribute to getting better (besides just time) is that I quit taking medicine and I started to stretch and exercise. I realized that the medicine wasn’t really doing anything to help my headaches. If it wasn’t making my head feel better then there really wasn’t any point to take it. The medicine did affect my back because I had more back pain after I quit taking medicine, but I just powered through. I also started stretching every night and doing light push-ups and sit-ups. I don’t know if it really was the cause, but I haven’t had any headaches in a while, my back feels good, and I’m up 4kgs ( 8.8 pounds) from last month to give you an idea of how thin I was.

Besides being humbled by my health, I was obviously humbled by the poverty in the south. I lived in the northeast of Madagascar for three years. People aren’t rich, but they’re not poor like the people in the south. It’s amazing that there really isn’t anything and everything they do plant seems to survive on a few drops of water, which is amazing in itself. Granted, it’s not a complete desert wasteland because there are areas that are near rivers and there are canals in certain areas to help with irrigation.  But the food and resources in the area are definitely limited. Regardless, it’s a part of Madagascar that deserves a lot more help than I think it is being given.

Third, I was trying to figure out this project. It’s been going on for four years and I haven’t been the slightest bit a part of that. I read a bunch of documents and had an idea, but I really didn’t have what I needed to know when I stepped into the office in Amboasary. So, I had to ask field agents and other office members a lot of questions that were important for me, but not important for the scope of work. At one point some guy asked me why I was asking all of these questions (indirectly of course). He had just assumed that I worked with the project as a Peace Corps Volunteer and that was why I was working with them now. Nope, buddy, I’m just clueless.

So, while I tried to figure out this project and understand what I really needed to ask I was asking all these questions to field agents and beneficiaries. That’s where the Androy dialect comes in. Androy isn’t at all like the Malagasy dialects. Granted, where I was isn’t as hard to understand as the actual Antandroy region, but it was still very difficult for me.  It must have been very comical for the beneficiaries to see them respond, me look a little clueless, and then have a field agent translate their response to a different form of Malagasy. Despite the confusion, we were able to get a lot of things answered even if it did take reforming the question two or three times.

In order to show my thanks and to help out the CARE office in Amboasary I taught a little bit of English to the people in the office.  At the end of each day, if I had time, I would teach whatever they wanted to know. It was a big change having educated people to teach. In many ways it was easier and I felt like they were more receptive.  I did think it was a little interesting when we were talking about likes and dislikes and then three questions to me (almost consecutively) were – 1. Which do you like, white women or black women? 2. Which do you like, American women or Malagasy women? 3. A repeat of the first question.  I guess there are some things that just don’t change.

My diet on the road was pretty different too. Its been a while since I had a few weeks where I didn’t cook at all. Granted, it wasn’t a big problem for me because I can eat rice and I don’t really need something fancy. However, I was happy when we stayed a few nights in Berenty because they gave me fruit and more vegetable options.  There were a few days when I had street bread for breakfast, beans with meat and rice for lunch and then the same thing for dinner. Some days it only changed slightly. Regardless, it was nice not to cook, but maybe some of the other regions will supply more diverse food options. But I guess that’s why there is a food security project in the area.

The safety in the area is pretty bad. There are a lot of cattle rustlers or Dahalo (Malaso in the local dialect) in the area. They don’t stick to just cattle so it can prove to be a problem for everyone involved. Although it isn’t typical for foreigners, especially foreigners involved in development to be targeted, while we were in Amboasary there were a few incidents and people had their houses robbed. It’s pretty serious stuff as the people in the Dahalo have guns and are feared by pretty much everyone. While we were speaking to community members about work some would mention that they would sleep out in the cactus rather than their homes because they were afraid. Needless to say, to respect the security issue, I was eating dinner a little earlier than I would have liked. It kind of reminded me of when I was living in Matsobe and didn’t have electricity and would try to start cooking before it got dark.

Being part of an NGO is definitely different then Peace Corps. For starters, the organization pays for a lot (even though I fronted the money, I’ll get reimbursed).  Also, I was able to travel around in the CRS or CARE vehicles and motorcycles. It was funny to think that after three years I was finally allowed to be on a motorcycle.  In other ways, it was weird to be viewed completely differently. For three years I had been working in a community and everyone knew me. Now, I’m traveling around and nobody knows me, I’m not a part of their community. I’m just foreign aid. In almost all discussions I had to break the news that I’m really not that important of a person and I don’t decide what happens in the future.

Since I’ve been in Tana, I’ve been in and out of the office. I really enjoy having the freedom and being able to work from home if I want too. I wake up early and work on things because I seem motivated and clearheaded and then at random times of the day and night as well. I’d rather hyper focus for a few hours and really get something of quality finished rather than sitting in a room to fill my quota of hours. In a more practical and domestic sense, it allows me to go to the market to buy fresh food, which I enjoy.

However, life in Tana isn’t all smiles. My visa renewal was denied much to my surprise. Apparently, the rules changed and now you can’t just get a new visa, but have to leave the country and apply for a new transferable visa that then can be taken to the Ministry in order to receive a work visa. Had I known this, I might have done a few things a little differently in the past two months. Anyway, looking into all of my options, I’ll be going on a forced vacation to Mauritius next week. I’ll go to the Madagascar Embassy and get my one-month transferable visa and then go through the process again. I really didn’t want to spend the money, but I could think of worse places to go other than Mauritius…